Taking the temperature of NZNO

Kai Tiaki Oct 15 cover
This article first published in Kai Tiaki, October 2015. Reposted with permission.

This issue of Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand reports on NZNO’s annual general meeting (AGM) and conference, held in Wellington last month. (See pp12-19.) As a three-day affair, starting with the college and section day and National Student Unit (NSU) AGM, and proceeding through the business of the AGM and then onto the conference, the annual gathering provided an unparalleled opportunity to check the vital signs of our organisation, in the current environment.

The 176 NZNO members who took part will be surveyed and, in good time, their feedback will be analysed, collated and presented. But for now, I’d like to document my own initial assessment and plan, to supplement the priorities I outlined in my speech to AGM as incoming president (p18). I believe a healthy NZNO flows on to greater wellness for the people we care for every day.

Baseline readings for many of our systems are good. As chief executive Memo Musa reported, NZNO membership continues to grow, even if there are areas which need attention (p12). Our finances are healthy, and some environmental factors – such as rising support for pay equity in the wake of Kristine Bartlett’s court wins – support healthy development for NZNO and our wider community.

The high level of agreement on our collective vision and mission, reflected in the unanimous vote by those at the AGM to adopt the 2015-2020 strategic plan, shows an organisation in good heart.

And among the colleges and section reps who gathered on day one, the news is that, while a few committees are struggling a little to engage their members fully, many are powering ahead and producing work which is influential nationally and internationally.

But some other signs and symptoms on display at conference, and some other environmental factors discussed there, are less reassuring.

The main business of AGM each year is to debate and vote on remits, either to amend our constitution, or to set policy priorities for the next 12 months. It is then up to the elected board of directors to govern NZNO in accordance with the latest version of the constitution and any agreed policy priorities.

For many delegates at this year’s AGM, the remit debates might have confirmed Winston Churchill’s famous observation “that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried”. 

Despite the frustrations of meandering debate, poor time-keeping and confusion over meeting procedure, the remits did allow the democratic voice of members to be heard at our top decision-making forum. And a theme could be heard in this membership voice. Among the 12 remits, five indicated members want more say in running NZNO, more checks and balances for the board, or both. During the debates, one delegate said it appeared some members feared our board and leaders.

Meanwhile, the board put forward a remit of its own, to amend the constitution and grant itself the power to establish the overall strategic direction and policy of NZNO. This proposal was rejected, so the power will remain with the members who participate in the AGM. But it seemed strangely at odds with the theme of the other remits. Strengthening the relationship between NZNO’s elected leadership and members will be a top priority for me over the next three years, in my role as co-leader. Listening to members at every opportunity will be essential to achieving this.

In our wider environment, too, there are some noxious influences. In his speech to conference, Health Minister Jonathan Cole- man reminded us that our sector received the largest share of new spending in this year’s Budget – $400 million, in all.

What he did not mention was that this was less than the amount needed to keep up with rising costs, or that increases in previous years have also failed to keep up. Council of Trade Unions economist Bill Rosenberg estimates the accumulated funding shortfall in government health expenditure for 2015/16, compared to 2009/10, is more than $1 billion.

Impact of funding shortfall 

Many NZNO members are feeling this funding shortfall. They are finding they must do more and more, with no corresponding increase in resources. And, in turn, it is placing greater strain on NZNO delegates and staff, as stressed members seek support.

This environmental factor has not yet caused serious harm to NZNO. But ensuring workplace delegates are well-supported and strengthening NZNO’s industrial presence will help to inoculate us from its toxic effects, while we campaign to change it.

And we will need to be fully fit as an organisation, to deal with the health effects of worsening social indicators and entrenched inequalities. For example, we must address the scandalous gap in life expectancy between Māori and non-Māori New Zealanders which, as Heather Came reminded us all at conference, is still 7.2 years for women and 7.4 years for men (p16).

After a brief time as president, then, this is my one-page initial assessment and plan for the organisation, as it presented in “the clinic” last month. As I stressed in my speech to AGM, NZNO leaders have a responsibility to lead, but in a democratic, member-run organisation like ours, the direction is ultimately set by the members.

So what do you think about the health of our organisation? Why not pen a letter to Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand about it now? Or, if you prefer, drop me an email at grantb@nzno.org.nz or message me via Facebook or LinkedIn.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts. •

Grant Brookes, RN, is NZNO’s newly-elected president.

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